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My Mental Health Journey in Surviving Cancer

I live with bipolar disorder, OCD, and migraines, and have recovered from complex PTSD, an eating disorder, and other difficult illnesses. I’ve survived homelessness, domestic violence, and other traumas. Still, when my doctor gave me a cancer diagnosis last winter, it was the hardest shock yet.

First I had to wait a few weeks to see my oncologists and get a treatment plan: six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The wait was gloomy, filled with dread and fear. I told only close family, not wanting to spread bad news.

I bought a set of nice socks and a café gift card and gave them in a Christmas gift bag to a homeless man, wanting to be the bearer of good news for a change, and see a smile instead of a look of concern. That gift made both of us feel better.

Living in pain and on heavy drugs, my mind was not at its best. I had to take a sabbatical from writing here at PsychCentral, unable to form coherent thoughts and spell properly. Things only got worse as I entered treatment, the chemo and radiation taking a toll on my cognitive abilities as well. Physical symptoms affected mental ones, and I experienced “chemo brain.” I sent an email newsletter to close family and friends, and my updates were filled with embarrassing errors.

Despite that, I kept a positive outlook and was not depressed throughout treatment. Although I had to be hospitalized four times, my spirits didn’t flag. It was just part of the recovery process and I’d been given very good odds of survival so I clung to that hope. Friends sent cards and little gifts and cheery artwork, which buoyed me as well. The support and love of my wife, most of all, kept me going through very tough times.

Ironically, it wasn’t until treatment was over and I was recovering from radiation side effects, a long, slow, icky process, that I started to feel low. It was taking so long, months, I was mostly housebound, and official supports weren’t around as much as they were at first. Luckily my friends threw an online party for me at that point. Seeing their fun and joyful art lifted me up again. I also talked a lot with my psychiatrist, and my peer supporters, who all explained that it was normal to droop when recovery takes so long.

Finally came the 3-month post-radiation MRI, to see if the cancer was gone. My wife and I saw my oncologist for the results a few days later.

“You’re clear,” he said, meaning I was now cancer-free. Ecstatic, we went out to celebrate with family right after the appointment.

Now that I’m healthy, I’m still being monitored for five years, with oncologist visits and more scans. I live in terrible fear that the cancer will recur. But chances are very low that will happen.

Mostly, I’m glad to be alive. I have healthy new habits, daily fitness and improved nutrition, and the mindfulness I learned years ago from CBT is still helping me enjoy life today.

Every time I go for my daily walk, I sniff roses and admire their beauty. Tomorrow they may be gone, and so might I, but for now me and the flowers are grateful to be here.

Woman with a rose photo available from Shutterstock

My Mental Health Journey in Surviving Cancer

Sandra Kiume

Sandra Kiume is a mental health advocate. Along with contributing to World of Psychology, she blogs at Channel N about brain and behaviour videos, and is the founder of @unsuicide and Online Suicide Help. She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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APA Reference
Kiume, S. (2018). My Mental Health Journey in Surviving Cancer. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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